Progressive Reform in a Transatlantic Age: Economics, Culture, and Politics in the United States (1890-1920)

This essay describes the main political, socioeconomic, and cultural dimensions of progressivism and, on this basis, explores the imprint of the Progressive Era on the modern United States. It pays particular attention to the transatlantic dimension of progressivism, suggesting that the reformers’ perceptions and translations of European social reform provided both inspiration and resources for the formulation of a new politics, economics, and culture in turn-of-the-century America, and arguing that the contributions of some German immigrant entrepreneurs need to be seen in this context. At the same time, the essay contends that the international dimension of progressivism highlighted the fissures, fault lines, and blind spots within the movement and within American culture and society as a whole.

Updated: February 09, 2015

The terms “Progressive Era” and “progressivism” conjure up images of things in motion, of change in the air, and of tectonic shifts in American society, politics, and culture. “Progressive Era” suggests a time filled with grandiose expectations and new imperial vistas, a period when America embraced modernity and cultivated an international, cosmopolitan outlook. “Progressivism” hints at a brief moment of opportunity for a new social order between the unbridled capitalism, raucous politics, and industrial unrest of the Gilded Age, on the one hand, and the pernicious nativism, paranoid anti-communism, and intolerant fundamentalism of the years following World War I, on the other. Still, despite the era’s sense of possibility and the movement’s reformist fervor, there were signs of trouble ahead – a seemingly insouciant faith in technology was accompanied by dark premonitions; a can-do attitude was coupled with nervous unease; a fascination with modernity was joined by worries about the destructive forces of impersonal “progress;” and the celebration of America’s new-found economic power existed alongside some of the most egregious manifestations of racial injustice and jingoistic excess.

This essay describes the main political, socioeconomic, and cultural dimensions of progressivism and, on this basis, explores the imprint of the Progressive Era on the modern United States. It pays particular attention to the transatlantic dimension of progressivism, suggesting that the reformers’ perceptions and translations of European social reform provided both inspiration and resources for the formulation of a new politics, economics, and culture in turn-of-the-century America, and arguing that the contributions of some German immigrant entrepreneurs need to be seen in this context. At the same time, the essay contends that the international dimension of progressivism highlighted the fissures, fault lines, and blind spots within the movement and within American culture and society as a whole.

Who Were the Progressives?

U.S. history textbooks often struggle to convey what “progressivism” actually means, because the causes, backgrounds, strategies, and motives of the reformers differed tremendously. They campaigned for anything from protective laws for workers to the direct election of senators; from public playgrounds to unemployment insurance; from prison reform to immigrant aid; and from city-owned utilities to public housing. They operated on municipal, state, and federal levels. They mostly organized in civic bodies, sometimes in political parties, and frequently found themselves in shifting coalitions with other social movements. Progressives could be found in the urban cities of the East, but also in the Midwestern heartland, parts of the South, and both the coastal and the mountainous West, where populist and farmer-labor insurgencies often shaped a distinctive progressive style. Many, but not all progressives were from white, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class backgrounds. The movement, however, bridged class and ethnic divides. On the whole, the progressives were motivated by a variety of impulses, including status anxiety, economic self-interest, evangelical fervor, civic responsibility, and a desire for political power.

Historians have spent decades debating the legacy of progressive reform. Did the reformers want to bust the trusts or make their “industrial efficiency” socially useful? Were they cultural modernists and pluralists, or closet nativists and purveyors of Victorian “moral uplift”? Were they promoting the self-interest of a newly assertive class of white-collar professionals, or did they seek to radically democratize the social order? Were they pioneers of the welfare state or trailblazers of organized capitalism? Were they interested in social control or social justice? Did they pave the way for corporate control over party politics, or did they break the stranglehold of vested interests? Did they seek to contain the budding women’s movements, immigrant working-class unrest, and African American self-assertion, or did they formulate new cultural and political visions beyond established gender, ethnic, class, and race divides?

As researchers probed the world of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social reform, it became increasingly clear that it was more appropriate to speak of a range of “progressivisms” that frequently differed on many issues. For every Joseph Willits, who believed in paternalistic welfare capitalism and farsighted business managers, there was a Florence Kelley, who sought genuine socialist alternatives to America's plutocratic wealth in the face of abject poverty. For every Edward Ross, who provided sociological firepower for racism and nativism, there was a W.E.B. Du Bois, who lambasted the racialist underpinnings of much of the period’s public life and social theory. For every Frances Kellor, who sought to “Americanize” immigrants, there was a Jane Addams who expressed a deep appreciation of diverse ethnic traditions. For every Albert Shaw, who embraced expert rule and limited suffrage in city government, there was a Frederic Howe, who spelled out a vision of the city as a place of democratic renewal based on public ownership, mutualistic institutions, and urban art. And for every Charles Henderson, who promoted compulsory health insurance as a means of asserting social hierarchies and moral control, there was an Isaac Rubinow, who sought to create an inclusive and democratic social insurance system out of traditions of immigrant mutualism.

Despite this diversity, we can detect some elements of cohesion when we place progressivism in the context of the broader political, economic, and cultural transformations between the 1890s and the 1920s. The reformers were a key group in the emergence of a new politics commensurate with America's political economy in the age of corporate capitalism. They bridged the worlds of ideas, social activism, and political involvement at a time when the growing power of big business, the rise of working-class politics, and the emergence of new cultural forms and modes of production challenged established alignments, practices, and mores in American society. Like many social movements, progressivism started both with a sense of righteous indignation and a sense that change was possible. In particular, three main developments in late nineteenth-century America accounted for this combination of nervousness and opportunity: industrial change, mass immigration, and the transformation of urban politics.

Corporate Capitalism and Its Discontents

Industrialization and urbanization were the key economic experiences of post-Civil War society. The U.S. Gross National Product (GNP) doubled between 1895 and 1914. On the eve of World War I, one-third of world industrial production took place in North America. The combined output from, for example, the coal fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the oil wells in Ohio, Wyoming, and California, and the iron and steel mills in Minnesota and Michigan, had created a new industrial behemoth. This vast expansion both resulted from and fuelled fundamental socioeconomic transformations. A typical business unit in the nineteenth century was owned by individuals or small groups. By the turn of the century, however, large consolidated corporations exerted vast economic and political control. Both horizontal and vertical integration in the economy reached unprecedented levels: Rockefeller controlled oil, Carnegie steel, Edison electricity, J.P. Morgan investment banking, and the five big railroads that crisscrossed the country were effectively owned by two major banks.

The growth of industrial capitalism led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small elite, exacerbating inequalities and bringing about an ever growing gap between rich and poor. In 1840, the nation's richest one percent controlled about twenty percent of the wealth. By the end of the century, this had increased to more than a third. The scale of their power was staggering. The Pennsylvania Railroad alone had more employees than the federal government; the Southern Pacific Railroad effectively controlled California; and the Anaconda Copper Corporation basically ran Montana. Trusts and pools carved up markets, fixed prices, and pushed out smaller competitors, and in 1895 J.P. Morgan made sure a bailout by the government was on terms highly beneficial to the banks. Government, it appeared to many observers, was largely reduced to a handmaiden of “robber barons” and “malefactors of great wealth.”

Social unrest, violent strikes, and pervasive industrial conflict formed the flipside of this unbridled acquisition of wealth and power. Major overproduction crises in 1873 and 1893, followed by drawn-out depressions, hit farmers and workers the hardest, leading to unemployment levels in excess of twenty percent. Homelessness and starvation were common in an age with no universal unemployment insurance, sick pay, or workmen's compensation. At the same time, federal troops, private police forces, and repressive court injunctions were liberally used to crush episodes of labor unrest, such as the 1877 railroad strikes and the 1894 Pullman strike.

The progressives were both fundamentally bound up with and deeply disturbed by these developments. On the one hand, many of them benefitted from the new economy as the rise of corporations substantially increased the demand for experts, managers, and other white-collar employees. On the other hand, the new industrial order generated profound disquiet. Many progressives had grown up in small-town settings and were steeped in Republican politics and evangelical religion. They had imbibed the close association between middle-class norms of self-help, industriousness, and competitive achievement, and a Protestant code that demanded self-control, personal piety, and frugality. What they saw happening around them, however, was of a different order altogether: Gilded Age industrialism rewarded the ruthless exploiter and the unscrupulous businessman in ways that appeared to sever the link between individual entrepreneurship, moral development, and economic success. Consolidated corporate power, in conjunction with shady politicians doing the bidding for big business, threatened democratic government. The tension between the vast increase in productive capacity and the dramatic rise in poverty created a breeding ground for corrupt machine politics and populist rabble rousers. Overcrowding and pollution posed serious health hazards in rapidly growing cities. And alcoholism, prostitution, juvenile delinquency, and “coarse and illicit merrymaking” in densely packed urban saloons, brothels, gambling dens, and dance halls suggested a breakdown in the moral order accompanying unbridled capitalism.[1]

The tensions, ambiguities, and contradictions of the Progressive Era were well illustrated in the biographies of many leading citizens of the day, including that of German-born banker Jacob Schiff, who, at one time or another, marketed the bonds of every major U.S. railroad. As a banker, investor, and lender to America’s railroad magnates, Schiff earned phenomenal profits through the consolidation of banking and trusts in late-nineteenth-century America. For this, he attracted heavy criticism from progressives, who regarded him disdainfully as a leading representative of the Money Trust. And yet, Schiff partnered with progressive reformers in his generous patronage of various social welfare causes and institutions in New York City, including the Montefiore Hospital and Home for the Aged, the Educational Alliance, and the Henry Street Settlement.   

Schiff’s contemporary and compatriot Adolph Lewisohn also amassed a substantial fortune in an era of trusts and consolidation – in Lewisohn’s case, through his involvement in the Butte & Boston Consolidated Mining Company (B & B). Like Schiff, Lewisohn benefitted from a system of wealth that enriched few at the expense of many. Within that framework, however, he worked hard – and gave generously – to improve the public welfare. In addition to supporting a variety of charities, schools, and cultural institutions, Lewisohn was active in numerous progressive causes, most notably child protection and prison reform. Among other positions, he was a member of the National Child Labor Committee and chairman of the National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor. Like Schiff’s philanthropy, Lewisohn’s involvement in charitable causes was largely motivated by his Jewish faith.    

A Culture under Siege

While the pitfalls of corporate capitalism and urban malaise filled many middle-class Americans with dread, another development – one that was closely associated with these transformations – added a deep sense of cultural unease: mass immigration. Between the 1880s and the 1920s (frequently called the period of the "new immigration"), roughly 24 million people entered the United States. By 1920, the American population had more than doubled to over 105 million. The absence of centralized immigration bureaucracies, processing centers, and passport checks meant that the decades prior to World War I had constituted a “liberal moment” of relatively porous borders and easy interaction.[2] In contrast to earlier periods, when most migrants were Protestants from northern and western Europe, however, the bulk of the newcomers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish immigrants from Southern and Eastern Central Europe, and Russia. Over 4 million immigrants came from southern Italy and the widespread lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, respectively, more than 3 million from Russia, and half a million from Greece. Although immigration from Germany (2.4 million), Ireland (1.5 million), Great Britain (2 million), and Sweden and Norway (1.5 million) continued unabated, and close to a million people came from China and other Asian countries, 46 percent of all immigrants in the period between 1900 and 1914 came from Eastern Europe and an additional 26 percent from Southern Europe.[3]

Not only did the new immigrants differ from previous arrivals in terms of religion, ethnicity, and regional origin. Over two-thirds also came from unskilled or semi-skilled backgrounds. Willing to work long hours and often difficult to unionize, Southern and Eastern European immigrants provided a ready pool of cheap and easily replaced labor. Working for low wages on the railroads, in textile mills, and in the mines of America, they were the lubricant that oiled the new machinery of industrial mass production, giving many progressives cause for concern. Indeed, as historian Matthew Frye Jacobson put it, capitalism could never quite get enough of multiculturalism, since the mass influx of unskilled and semi-skilled workers created intense job competition that drove down wages and significantly reduced the cost of production.[4]

Labor historians often view this process of “deskilling” as part of the transformation of power relations in the workplace that reinforced economic inequalities. As part of the “Fordist” revolution in manufacturing, which included the use of assembly lines, jobs traditionally requiring skilled mechanics or artisans were increasingly replaced by machines that divided up the production process into simple, repetitive tasks. In turn, many workers experienced a distinct loss of control and autonomy in their workplace. They no longer had a sense of being involved in industrial craftsmanship, but were reduced to replaceable components. Likewise, “speed ups” and “scientific management,” pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the name of maximizing efficiency, weakened the shop floor power of skilled workers and foremen as white-collar managers increasingly oversaw routinized work processes.[5]

What is more, in contrast to the popular image of America as a “melting pot,” growing ethnic diversity at the turn o  the century went hand in hand with more rigid lines of socioeconomic, political, and regional division. Many immigrants clustered around certain areas of the country, held on to their ethnic identities, and imprinted their cultural practices and institutions onto their settlement regions. As historian Cybelle Fox has noted, the Europeans, Mexicans, and African Americans who provided the manpower for America’s rising industrial might lived “in three separate worlds in the first third of the twentieth century, each with its own particular set of race and labor market relations and distinct political systems.”[6] Around ninety percent of European immigrants settled in a triangular area ranging from New England down the Atlantic Coast to Washington, DC, and westwards to St. Louis. Clustered in the urban and industrial areas of the North and East, they often lived in cramped rows of tenements and segregated ethnic neighborhoods, working mainly in skilled and unskilled manufacturing jobs in the garment industry, manufacturing, construction, heavy industry, and mining. Few ventured to the South with its racist legacy and lack of job opportunities. Meanwhile, eighty-seven percent of Mexicans (the majority of whom were not citizens and could not vote), lived in the Southwest as unorganized migrant workers feeding the machinery of an agribusiness that was reliant on cheap, seasonal labor. And sixty-nine percent of African Americans lived in the South as a largely disfranchised, landless, and dependent agricultural workforce.[7]

For many old-stock progressives, immigration and ethno-racial diversity raised disconcerting questions about national cohesion, social justice, and democratic government. In their view, the machinations of robber barons, on the one hand, and the rise of a landless proletariat, on the other, threatened the very socioeconomic and normative foundations of the republic. In turn, mass migration, urban life, and the industrial workplace became defining concerns in progressive debates.

The Dilemma of Urban Politics

The consolidation of corporate power, in conjunction with the large-scale influx of low-skilled immigrants also transformed urban politics in ways that many fledgling progressives found deeply unsettling. At the top of the social ladder, vested interests bribed and lobbied politicians; at the bottom, an exploited, ethnically-diverse immigrant working class sold not only its labor, but also its votes in the marketplace. For many immigrants, the only political leverage they had was the right to vote – and in exchange for electoral loyalty, urban political machines mediated access to relief funds, offered jobs, and provided social services. As historian Theda Skocpol maintains, prior to the New Deal “urban machine politicians were just about the only authorities in the U.S. who responded sympathetically and concretely to problems of unemployment.”[8]

Thus, for many immigrants, effective political power frequently stemmed from urban party machines operating on ethnic foundations. Furthermore, immigrants often found that their successful participation in American life was predicated upon ethnopolitical self-assertion and ethnic institution-building. Immigrant institutions, ranging from credit unions and housing cooperatives to hospitals and insurance organizations, were often the key to gaining access to economic resources and social status. Most new immigrant groups thus created structures separate from the established institutions of American society.

In this setting, dominated by corporate control on the one hand and patronage-oriented party machines on the other, many middle-class urban reformers found themselves politically sidelined. They were equally disgusted by the buying and selling of politicians by sinister business lobbies and by the vote-rigging and shady deals conducted in smoke-filled backrooms by corrupt ward bosses supported by ethnic voters.[9] These feelings were often mutual. Indeed, the most vocal critics of progressivism could often be found among the groups the reformers professed to represent. Urban lower classes and immigrants frequently resisted attempts by progressives to clean up the slums and make municipal government more efficient and centralized. In their view, the city manager might have been less corrupt than the ward boss, but he rarely felt the same ties to lower-class and immigrant voters. Likewise, most progressives, while keenly interested in working-class movements, identified emotionally, culturally, and socially with the bourgeois elements in urban society. As Walter Rauschenbusch noted, outspoken support for immigrant socialism was associated with “low, red-nosed” characters “swearing and fuming in beer-dives, threatening to blow up all creation with dynamite, and hoping to divide up all the property and then live without working.”[10]

In summation, progressive reform was primarily formulated in the context of three main transformations in American society. First, the transition in the economy from a bourgeois, self-employed, free labor mode of production centered on smaller, family-owned firms, to a new corporate order dominated by business consolidation. This was closely connected to a second change, namely the shift from skills-based, artisanal manufacturing to industrial mass production reliant on wage-dependent unskilled and semi-skilled workers, which had profound implications for the distribution of political and economic power. The third change is the transition from “community” to “society.” This describes the replacement of organic, communal ties based on shared social experiences and cultural traditions by more anonymous, market-based connections in the hustle and bustle of ethnically diverse cities.

Social Politics and the “Progressive International”

In this climate of socioeconomic upheaval, cultural fragmentation, and political marginalization, the progressives, for the most part a privileged and prosperous group, had a variety of avenues available for social action and influence. First, they could seek to assert themselves within the existing institutions of American politics and government. Indeed, in the post-Civil War era, the expansion of government regulation of the economy and social welfare created a growing demand for skilled administrators, experts, and civil servants.[11] Journalist Albert Shaw, a friend of Woodrow Wilson and later an adviser to Theodore Roosevelt, listed public land policies, railroad land grants, inspection laws, agricultural loans, public health legislation, schooling, and licensing laws as examples of widely accepted domains of federal and state intervention requiring more and more bureaucratic personnel. “Legislation intended to enforce certain standards of morality,” he added, “is perhaps more prolific and vigorous in the United States...than anywhere else in the world.”[12] He even went as far as declaring that “the laissez-faire doctrine of government is as foreign to the true genius of social and political life… as is the ultra-socialistic doctrine.”

Of course, the progressives were keenly aware of the opportunities that new regulatory agencies and expanded state functions offered to the educated middle classes. At the same time, however, most reformers found little to praise in the record of homegrown economic interventionism, and they distrusted and reviled Gilded Age government. The corrupt Civil War pensions bureaucracy, inefficient spoils system, overgenerous railroad subsidies, and moralistic licensing laws were anathema to the urban, cosmopolitan, and newly assertive middle class that formed the backbone of progressivism.[13]

A second path open to the progressives was the creation of organizational and institutional alternatives. Indeed, many progressives used their organizational prowess, administrative expertise, and professional knowledge to create a new infrastructure of urban reform. A brief glance at New York City reveals the intricate inner workings of this social and political activism. As the home of Columbia University, the National Consumers' League, Greenwich House Settlement, the Municipal Research Bureau, the American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL), and a plethora of other progressive institutions, New York was a breeding ground for two generations of reformers from the 1890s to the 1920s. Leading lights such as E.R.A. Seligman, Charles Beard, John Dewey, Samuel McCune Lindsay, Florence Kelley, Mary Simkhovitch, Franz Boas, Frances Kellor, Edward T. Devine, Frances Perkins, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Isaac Rubinow put in at least cameo appearances whenever a new reform cause was conceived. Perhaps inspired by the pace of the metropolis in which they lived, these reformers engaged in a whirlwind of activity that included settlements, municipal reform, child protection, social insurance, civil rights, and Progressive Party politics. From the hustle and bustle of the United Charities Building to the cultivated salon of Lillian Wald's Henry Street Settlement (supported, as mentioned previously, by German-Jewish banker Jacob Schiff), New York was a microcosm of interlinked progressive institution-building.[14]

At the center of this institutional mobilization was an organizational revolution within American social reform, namely, the transition from charities to philanthropies, and the development of professionalized nonprofit organizations. While charity denotes individual acts of compassion in tight-knit communal contexts, philanthropy describes organized efforts to reform society via collective action associated with formal institutions, such as poorhouses, hospitals, and asylums. Indeed, post-Civil War philanthropies “well in advance of railroads…introduced antebellum Americans to modern bureaucracy.”[15] They were managed like business enterprises and pioneered modern forms of administration. The “scientific philanthropy” practiced by foundations set up by, among others, Julius Rosenwald, Olivia Sage, Rockefeller, and Carnegie, used corporate models with boards of trustees, paid managerial staff, and modern accounting and reporting procedures. They funded the development of a modern medical research and social science infrastructure, helped standardize the training of social workers, lawyers, and engineers, and pushed universities toward adopting corporate accounting systems.[16] The Rosenwald Fund, for example, set up by German-American businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, financed a famous African American school building program in the segregated American South, as well as academic fellowships, museums, charities, and healthcare programs. Likewise, department store magnate Edward A. Filene created the Twentieth Century Fund in 1919 as a means of streamlining support for a wide range of social causes.

Progressive institution-building, however, was not only driven by a focus on uplift through science and technology. It also reflected the desire to create a new kind of politics that recognized the interconnected and interdependent nature of modern society. As indomitable reformer Frederic C. Howe summed it up, “it was not economy, efficiency, and business methods that interested me so much as a city planned, built, and conducted as a community enterprise.”[17] The term “social politics” best describes what the progressive project was all about: an effort to revive democratic participation within modern urban and industrial structures on the basis of a more equitable social order; a vision of political decision-making grounded in expert knowledge beyond narrow interest-group lobbying and machine-style patronage; and a desire to nurture a civic culture that transcended narrow ethnic identities. As the next section shows, the institutional subcultures of American reform drew significant inspiration from European social developments.

The Transatlantic Dimension of American Reform

In the decades prior to World War I, American reformers who had ventured abroad authored an extraordinary number of first-hand accounts of foreign reform initiatives and activities. Articles entitled “The Municipal Spirit in England,” “How Germany Cares for Her Working People,” and “Public Ownership in France” filled the pages of many of the new mass circulation magazines of the era, such as Scribner’s, Outlook, Arena, and Review of Reviews. Surveying British urban reform, German social insurance, and French syndicalism, American progressives alerted the readers of Survey, the National Municipal Review, City Plan and other mouthpieces of professional social reform to European developments in areas such as urban planning, conservation, cartelization, labor laws, and the nationalization of transportation and communication networks.

According to historian Daniel T. Rodgers, the reformers’ transatlantic orientation created “a moment when American politics was peculiarly open to foreign models and imported ideas.”[18] Since problems relating to industrial exploitation, corporate consolidation, the unequal distribution of wealth, unprecedented urban growth, mass migration, and social strife affected societies on both sides of the Atlantic, there was a desire to look beyond national boundaries for solutions. Arguing that Europe and the U.S. were exposed to the same forces of industrialization and modernization, many progressives stressed “sameness” over “exceptionalism” and believed that learning the lessons of Europe would enable the U.S. to continue on the path of social progress. As progressive journalist Walter Weyl asserted in 1912, “Europe does not learn at our feet the facile lessons of democracy, but has in some respects become our teacher.”[19]

Progressive Era conceptions and adaptations of European reforms replaced older conceptualizations that either juxtaposed European despotism and feudalism with enlightened republican America, or contrasted a static and pre-modern Europe with a new and, in some ways, raw United States. American social thinkers of the 1890s may have attached some value to the uniqueness of the American experience, but, as one scholar has argued, “all regarded the present historical challenge as one that linked America to Europe.”[20] Hence, Daniel Rodgers described the age of “social politics” as a “fourth phase” in the relationship between Europe and the U.S., on a par with the “age of commercial empires” and “revolutionary nation-building” in previous centuries, and preceding post-World War II American hegemony.[21]

This “progressive international” was closely connected to the period’s cult of mobility, technology, and national assertion. First, the railroads and the great ocean liners of the Age of Steam facilitated new opportunities for international travel and exchange. While the European grand tour had been the mainstay of educated elites for a long time, the decades immediately prior to World War I saw the rise of a new kind of American sojourner to Europe. As transatlantic travel became cheaper, and as access to European universities more widely available, a plethora of young, educated, middle-class Americans ventured abroad. They included economists (e.g. Richard Ely, Simon N. Patten, and Henry C. Adams), sociologists (e.g. Edward Ross, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Herbert Mead, Albion W. Small, and Charles Henderson), political scientists (e.g. Frank J. Goodnow and Ernst Freund), social workers (e.g. Florence Kelley and Edward T. Devine), city planners (e.g. Benjamin C. Marsh and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr), journalists (e.g. Albert Shaw, Walter Weyl, and Herbert Croly), and administrator-activists (e.g. Isaac M. Rubinow and Frederic C. Howe).[22]

Second, in contrast to the earlier generation of cultured gentlemen travelers, the new sojourners were as likely to be found listening to a city official exhort the benefits of municipal slaughterhouses and city-owned gas works as admiring a medieval cathedral. Their cultural view of Germany, for example, was not limited to the Lorelei and the Harzreise, but included the coal towns of the Ruhr valley, the congested tenements of Berlin, and the harbor improvements in Cologne. While some leading reformers, such as Lincoln Steffens, Lillian Wald, and Graham Taylor, proved more resilient to the bug of transatlanticism, many more became avid admirers of European civic experiments and technological modernity.

Third, however, the transnational gaze suffered from an eminently nationalistic myopia. Social politics was a distinctly nation-focused endeavor that captured the progressive imagination as part of the notion of global competition between nation-states. The crisis of confidence that had prompted a new interest in transatlantic affairs was tied to a growing sense that the United States was lagging behind in industrial development. As Scribner's noted in 1905, in the past Americans had “lacked a reason for having a keen practical interest in European social and industrial conditions,” but with the rise of industrial society and competition for markets “the questions affecting the relative efficiency of the other great industrial countries in competition with us” became of practical importance to every American.[23] Combining this view with the powerful Darwinian image of history as a struggle for survival in the competition for industrial supremacy, racial superiority, and cheap labor, many progressives feared that the U.S. would lose out in the global race and sink to a lower cultural level. [24]

The strong linguistic, historical, and institutional ties between Britain and the U.S. initially assured that American perceptions of British reforms were the first transatlantic conduit for European social legislation. Municipal ownership of utilities in Birmingham, for example, became one of the models of civic-mindedness celebrated by Ely, Shaw, and others. When the London City Council with its progressive majority of Liberals, Fabians, and labor radicals attempted to municipalize public utilities and transport, build municipal housing, and organize a public work force in the early 1890s, it became the most closely watched urban experiment in American progressivism.[25]

By the late nineteenth century, however, Germany had become a more frequent point of reference in American reform. In the eyes of many progressives, Germany faced familiar problems. Eastern Europeans migrated to the country, industrialization rapidly changed social conditions, unification had been achieved only recently after a bloody war, and the nation was becoming an economic powerhouse. At the same time, Germany appeared to have found more promising answers to the ravages of industrial and urban life. For Frederic Howe, Germany was “a democratically-minded country . . . organized on the ideals of Frederick the Great, but guided by the scientific idea of the twentieth century.”[26] Likewise, Richard Ely noted in the late 1880s the painful contrast between the clean, aesthetically appealing features of Berlin’s city streets and the squalor of American cities.[27] Despite some misgivings about the paternalism of the German state, many progressives equated Germany with an ideal of political order, national unity, and social welfare they wanted to emulate. Indeed, the image of Germany as a militaristic, expansionist, and repressive society did not gain a foothold in the public imagination until World War I.

The transatlantic reform network provided opportunities for intellectual exchange and support, as organizations such as the American Association for Labor Legislation and the American Economic Association (AEA) show. Founded in 1906, the AALL went from a clearinghouse for information to an active body of reform advocacy. Among its most active members were Chicago sociologist Charles R. Henderson, labor advocate John Graham Brooks, social worker Florence Kelley, and social insurance campaigner Isaac Rubinow. In 1909, the AALL made an arrangement with Paul Kellogg's social work magazine Survey to publish “from month to month a few typical examples of advanced social legislation from European experience.”[28] The AEA, meanwhile, became a clearinghouse for European ideas that were critical of laissez-faire policies. Founded in 1885, it was modelled on the German Verein für Socialpolitik (Social Policy Association), the main scholarly organization of the German historical school of economics, which was critical of economic liberalism. The AEA included not only economists, but also other social scientists, politicians, reformers, and journalists. Its leading founders, Richard Ely, Simon N. Patten, and Edmund J. James, were trained in Germany and had absorbed the historical school's critique of laissez-faire. They maintained that the state was “an agency whose positive assistance is one of the indispensable conditions of human progress.”[29]

A rich tapestry of transatlantic friendships, organized exchanges, institutional links, and professional ties also undergirded Progressive Era efforts to both fight and find substitutes for entrenched American policy models. In the eyes of many progressives, the marginalization of the educated middle class in American urban politics contrasted painfully with the widespread political participation of the Bildungsbürgertum in German cities. Greatly impressed with the respect their German mentors enjoyed from the community, they saw the creation of a German-style university system, civil service, and public sphere as central to the advancement of their social ideals and professional ambitions.[30]

In turn, the social policy expertise Americans had gleaned from European colleagues became the center of their efforts to gain a foothold in American political culture. Since European universities provided training that was unavailable in the U.S., overseas degrees were coveted credentials in an age when the lines between genteel reform, social work, and social science were not yet clearly drawn. This provided key organizational resources for the formulation of the new social politics in turn-of-the-century America. The European sojourn helped establish the authority of a new class of professionals, experts, and scholar-activists in their self-declared efforts to counterbalance the apparent greed and selfishness of the upper classes with the alleged ignorance and depravity of immigrants.[31] Seen from this perspective, transatlantic social politics was less about the search for foreign models than about constructing a field of political authority for an urban middle-class of social reformers. The perceived failure of various domestic policy paths, the growing accessibility of Europe, the sense of global convergence, and the social capital derived from transatlantic networks enabled this new class of reformers to shape the agenda of urban politics.[32]

Reclaiming the transatlantic dimension of American social reform, however, not only illustrates the cosmopolitan breadth and inclusive political vision of the progressives, it also reveals core conflicts and contradictions both within progressivism and within the political economy it helped shape. These include the tension between expert elitism and democratic impulses; regulatory and redistributionist concepts of state intervention; social control and social justice; the reassertion and the questioning of traditional gender roles; and scientific racism and cultural pluralism. The next sections of this essay will explore these conflicts by taking a closer look at four dimensions of fin-de-siècle social reform: business progressivism, the “social bonds” agenda, women and reform, and the problem of race in progressive thought and social action.

Business Progressivism

Progressives sought to assert their influence as professionals and experts in a variety of areas, but one that is of particular interest to the Immigrant Entrepreneurship project is the world of business. The broad tent of late nineteenth-century reform also included what the critical literature has called “business progressivism.” Despite their antipathy to robber barons, many progressives (possibly due to an upbringing that often combined Republican Party loyalty with the moral teachings of high church Presbyterianism or Episcopalianism) continued to show faith in the rational self-interest of “enlightened businessmen.” Many reformers remained attached to the values of nineteenth-century Protestant America, where “right living was living carefully, avoiding debts of any kind, and husbanding for some distant future when sickness and old age would overtake one.”[33] They talked about the ethical need for broader public control, yet often regarded the corporation as the model for good city government. They desired non-commercial urban institutions, yet wanted to lure businessmen into civic roles.

In addition, many progressives had learned their skills in private business. As Edward Berkowitz and Kim McQuaid have argued, the private sector provided the conceptual models and administrative capacities upon which many public programs were eventually based. Big business, they maintain, preceded big government in pioneering minimum wages, retirement plans, accident insurance, workplace safety campaigns, and similar social welfare measures. The underdeveloped public sector in the U.S. at the turn of the century – when the federal government had fewer employees than the steel industry – "made employer-initiated programs the linchpin in the evolution of socially desirable welfare standards."[34] Edward Filene, for example, played a key role in the creation of America's first workmen's compensation law passed in 1911, helped establish credit unions, and served as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Commission of Boston. Today, he is remembered as much for his contributions to the American credit union movement as he is for his famous Boston department store.

In short, many progressives sought to cultivate relations with the private sector as part of the larger agenda of promoting a new social order. They believed that urban politics and institutions could be organized in a way that would allow capitalism to be used for the welfare of society and enable businessmen to act on behalf of the well-being of the city. In turn, they regarded convincing businessmen of the economic value of planning, progressive taxation, and municipal ownership as a key element of urban reform. According to Frederic Howe, this would lead to “an intelligent understanding and approval of municipal socialism by all classes.”[35] Hence, there was no need for radical actions to overcome capitalism and bourgeois liberalism. Indeed, many progressive descriptions of European town officials as independent and prudent expert administrators mirrored the image of the nineteenth-century laissez-faire householder and patriarch who fulfilled his social duties with a strong sense of responsibility emanating from his status as a self-sufficient, thrifty, frugal, and self-disciplined citizen.

While business progressivism was steeped in traditional Republicanism and Protestantism, it was also grounded in a pragmatic awareness of politics as the art of the possible. The campaigns for public control over private utilities, an iconic progressive cause, were a case in point. While the municipal takeover of utilities had become the battle cry of many progressives, regulatory commissions that oversaw privately-owned services emerged as the more widespread form of control. These commissions had the power to approve rates, review capitalization, and set minimum standards. At the same time, regulatory commissions effectively stymied the drive for municipal ownership.[36]

This greatly appealed to both business progressives and utility companies. For the former, the commissions insured public oversight, avoiding the pitfalls of corruption and profiteering. The later breathed a sigh of relief because commissions did not challenge the hallowed principle of private ownership. What is more, the utility companies soon recognized the advantages of these regulatory bodies. Not only were they able to staff the commissions with their own people, they also benefited from depoliticizing the franchise process. As journalist Walter Lippmann grumbled in 1912, “municipal ownership under Socialists would pay for things that the people need; under reformers it would lighten the burden on property-owners.”[37] In the end, municipal control rarely reached beyond maintaining waterworks. While thirty out of thirty-eight major American cities owned their own water and sewer facilities at the turn of the century, only nine cities operated electrical power plants, three maintained municipal gasworks, and, by the 1920s, only Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle and New York operated or owned transit lines.[38]

Business progressivism, however, didn't really come into its own until after World War I, when it flourished in the context of Herbert Hoover's “associative state,” in which federal administrative capacities, subsidies, and regulation were used to promote cooperation in private business, encourage industrial standards, facilitate foreign trade, and rationalize production and distribution in order to achieve more economic stability. Nonetheless, business progressivism represented a distinct intellectual tradition within the prewar reform movement. Broadly speaking, business progressivism was characterized by a tension between “antimonopolism” and an “industrial efficiency,” that is, a tension between the “Jeffersonian” desire to use government to restore the functioning of competitive markets, and the “Hamiltonian” desire for efficient organization through centralization and consolidation.[39]

This tension, which remained ubiquitous throughout the Progressive Era and informed iconic texts such as Herbert Croly’s Promise of American Life (1909) and Walter Lippmann’s Drift and Mastery (1914), is best illustrated by one of the most dramatic presidential elections in twentieth-century American history. In the fall of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt's progressive “Bull Moose Party” faced Democratic contender Woodrow Wilson in a race that also included incumbent Republican president William Howard Taft and socialist Eugene Debs. Both Roosevelt and Wilson ran on progressive platforms that carved out an active role for government in the fight against corruption, exploitation, waste, and poverty. On issues such as railroad regulation, workmen's compensation, child labor laws, and a graduated income tax, the two men differed only on details. Nonetheless, Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” expressed faith in the efficiency of big business, and promoted government-business partnerships as necessary for social harmony and national strength. In contrast, Wilson's “New Freedom” campaign called for the renewal of economic competition and sought to achieve this through government break-ups of trusts and monopolies.[40]

Progressivism was not just about business, however. It was also about economics. While many progressives were mired in a culture that adulated republican manhood and Protestant religion, they were also part of an era that looked for new ways of understanding society. For reformers, the confounding intellectual problem of the late nineteenth century was that the captains of industry used an ideology of laissez-faire capitalism packaged in the newfangled rhetoric of social Darwinism to justify their economic and political dominance. As social Darwinism depicted the teachings of English economics as matching the laws of nature, Gilded Age capitalism came to rest on an ideological justification stronger than the traditional liberal and Enlightenment concepts of the self-regulating market, natural rights, acquisitive individualism, and limited government.[41]

Once again, it was the close interaction between American and European social thought that helped break open the intellectual stranglehold of this type of laissez-faire thinking. As historian James Kloppenberg has argued, progressive social thought helped construct a radical body of ideas cut loose from the “atomistic empiricism, psychological hedonism, and utilitarian ethics” of classical liberal economics.[42] The intellectual cross-currents of the fin-de-siècle exposed many reformers to European theories that depicted the allegedly eternal and universal laws of the market as historically constructed and as designed to serve as ideological legitimations for established economic interests. As economist Henry Carter Adams put it, European social thought suggested “the possibility of industrial and social development by the process of artificial rather than natural selection.”[43] What is more, by revealing the philosophical contradictions of the combination of laissez-faire economics and Darwinian thought, social thinkers such as Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey dismantled the ideology of Gilded Age capitalism.[44]

One key figure who connected business progressivism with the critique of nineteenth-century liberal economics in innovative ways was German-trained economist Simon N. Patten. As the main theoretician behind the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, he created an early “think tank” that promoted his vision of “voluntary socialism,” which combined a business focus with a critique of liberal notions of supply and demand, consumption, and economic scarcity. Patten had set sail for Germany in 1876 to study under the University of Halle's Johannes Conrad, one of the leading economists of the German historical school of economics. Under the influence of his mentor, Patten began to look at society as an organism and at man as defined by collective networks. In particular, Conrad's assumption that the long-term trend in history was toward abundance rather than scarcity, as many classical liberal economists assumed, impressed Patten. Conrad also shaped his student's ideas on birth control, scientific agriculture, and the diversification of crops. By investigating ways to reduce waste, criticizing the exhaustive use of cotton and tobacco, and lambasting free trade as an obstacle to variegated crop production, Patten paved the way for a shift in economic thinking from production to consumption. All of this left a mark on Patten's student Rexford Tugwell and his agricultural policies during the New Deal.[45]

Moreover, Patten’s work foreshadowed the growing nexus between the social sciences, philanthropic foundations, and business that took off in the 1920s. It is within this context that many of the concepts associated with the “welfare capitalism” of the 1920s were developed. They included the establishment of human resources departments in large corporations, the use of industrial psychology, the implementation of profit-sharing schemes, the creation of company-based benefit systems, and efforts at labor market stabilization. Second-generation German immigrant Theodore Thieme, the founder of Wayne Knitting Mills, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was an earlier supporter of welfare capitalism. In 1904, the mill introduced its first important employee benefit program, a profit-sharing scheme for officers, department heads, and “special employees.” Shortly thereafter, Thieme founded a benefit society to offer health and accident insurance to employees. Additionally, the campus of Wayne Knitting Mills included an on-site hospital, as well as a library, a cafeteria, and social and recreational facilities for employees.

Finally, the transformations that changed the political economy of the Progressive Era eventually facilitated the tenuous political cross-class coalition between middle-class social activists, labor leaders, and welfare capitalists that had long eluded reformers. As mentioned above, except for followers of social democratic revisionism within the movement, such as Isaac Rubinow and Florence Kelley, American progressives rarely developed close personal and political ties with the working classes and their organizations. Despite these tensions and divides, however, middle-class reform and urban working-class politics eventually found common ground. To a significant extent, this resulted from the fact that urban party machines, like the progressives, were bound up with the same developments in mobility, technology, and organization. As labor conflict in the late nineteenth century created a new sense of class-based interests among workers, and integrated immigrants, socialists, and trade unions into urban party machines, a modernized outlook emerged. The new labor politicians accepted capital accumulation as potentially beneficial to workers, and explicitly recognized the role of workers' consumption in ameliorating problems of overproduction. In turn, labor politics increasingly centered on demands for the eight-hour day, higher pay, and a minimum wage. In the same vein, the progressives’ “new liberalism” shifted the focus from distributive policies, such as franchises, land policies, and protective tariffs, to the redistributive and regulatory policies of organized market relations. Their pursuit of consumer-based politics, regulatory intervention, and industrial arbitration reflected the needs for administrative intervention and organization associated with corporate consolidation, white-collar employment, and wage-dependent labor.[46]

Social Control and Cultural Politics

Progressivism was not just about business and economics, however. It was also about how to mold a pluralistic society into a community of democratic norms and shared civic values. Likening the city to a physical organism, Frederic Howe, in a speech to urban reformers, summed up what he saw as the main stages in the development of the movement:

The first stage of our revolt was, ‘Turn the rascals out.’ You remember that stage. It was a partisan stage. The next stage was that of good government, -- merely good government. Then we moved on to the idea of a business man’s administration. ‘Let us get businessmen in office and all things will be well.’ We fussed about charters, about the spoils system, about the immigrants, about the ignorant voter. We tried a great variety of things, and if you will go back and enumerate in your mind all the things we have tried in the last twenty years you will agree with me, I think, that they have been personal, they have been ethical, they have been political, but that not until the town planning movement was born did we realize that the city was a physical thing.[47]

Organicist metaphors were employed in two distinct ways by American progressives. They show the extent to which the movement remained tied to notions of white Anglo-Saxon superiority while simultaneously seeking to overcome ethno-racial hierarchies and economic stratification.

First, organicism depicted social reform as a means of cleansing the body politic from disease and corruption. For instance, progressives frequently applied the rhetoric of sanitation to define urban reform as a crusade to save the fragile bourgeois family from the immorality of immigrants and racial minorities. They juxtaposed American urban saloons, gambling dens, and brothels frequented by the “queer conglomerate mass of heterogeneous elements…with a taint of whiskey” with the clean and well-planned European public spaces that allowed for moral and decent recreational pursuits.[48] Although many progressives objected to the simplistic vilification of immigrants, they nonetheless viewed social reform as a protective and regulatory process, in which immigrants frequently represented the dirty, chaotic, savage “other.”

In turn, progressive discourses on health and hygiene at times reinforced ethnic stereotyping and social exclusion by linking diseases and foreigners. One of the clearest manifestations of the reformers' fear that unsanitary conditions would lead to unsanitary ethnics was the way in which sweatshops were represented in progressive texts and images. As historian Laura Hapke has argued, the sweatshop images of germ-ridden public threats, smelly environs, and rampant immorality reflected a variety of ethnic, gender, and class prejudices beneath the scientism of the health and safety crusades. As the debate about industrial labor shifted from the antebellum focus on the exploitation of white Protestant workers to the Progressive Era focus on dismal conditions in industries reliant on immigrant labor, progressive representations of the grime and dirt of sweatshops merged with images of unclean immigrants. As a result, the use of the term “sweatshop” not only stigmatized the workplace, but also pathologized the immigrants themselves. New media such as photography, which merged graphic images of revolting workplaces with depictions of the cultural inferiority of immigrants, provided reformers with a narrative structure that linked moral outrage and modern hygiene with ethno-racial control.[49]

In the same vein, many settlement houses desired to promote Protestant middle-class values, inculcate the superiority of Anglo-Saxon culture, and eliminate the undesirable characteristics of immigrant populations. As one study of settlements in Gary, Indiana, between 1916 and 1940 found, they often sought to discipline and control the poor, ensuring their normative obedience under the disguise of compassion. Often run by religious missions, these institutions “typified the nativist paternalism inherent in the history of American social welfare.”[50] In essence, progressives were often more concerned with the cultural deviancy of immigrants than with their poverty; they were more focused on corrupt business practices than on the economic system that sanctioned them; and they were more obsessed with moral transgression than with redistributing income.

These perceptions and sentiments also fed into immigration restrictionism. As more and more new immigrants flocked to the U.S., the Progressive Era saw the creation of complex federal laws limiting the influx of people on a variety of grounds. In 1891, Congress excluded from admission people likely to become public charges, immigrants with certain contagious diseases, "convicts, lunatics, idiots," and “polygamists.” By 1892, New York's Ellis Island and, by 1910, the West Coast's Angel Island immigration station had become the first checkpoints for many immigrants. Prohibitions for anarchists and subversives were added in 1903, and laws passed in 1907 excluded people with “mental defects” and those who had committed crimes of “moral turpitude.” In 1917, when existing restrictions were codified, literacy tests designed to exclude immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were put in place. Likewise, an Asiatic Barred Zone, which included all of India, Afghanistan, and the Arab countries as well as East Asia and the Pacific, was written into the statutes.

A key impetus behind the Progressive Era push for restrictive legislation was the immigration commission set up by Congress in 1907. Chaired by Senator William Dillingham, the commission maintained that many of the new immigrants could not be assimilated and were the cause of the country's economic ills. Wrapping ethnic prejudices and stereotypes in the cloak of disinterested science, the Dillingham Commission’s famous 1911 report primarily blamed the new immigrants and transient “birds of passage” for lowering wage levels. The statistical firepower for the commission’s findings was largely provided by two progressive economists: Jeremiah W. Jenks and W. Jett Lauck. This indicates that restrictionism offered an important avenue for progressive influence. As a growth area of public policymaking and government intervention, immigration policy opened up opportunities for administrators and experts to staff an expanding bureaucracy, particularly after World War I. As historian John McClymer put it, "the campaigns to formulate a national immigrant policy are particularly important instances of the experts' efforts to realize the promise the war seemed to hold."[51]

While a wide range of reformers thus used organicist tropes to cloak paternalism and restrictionism in the language of scientific expertise, there was another side to the story. Daniel Rodgers has called this the “social bonds” dimension of progressivism. Its advocates used organicist metaphors not to advance social control or eugenicism, but rather to expand opportunities for social interaction and exchange, foster a culture of deliberation, and promote a public sphere of democratic control. For this, they sought to build upon progressive ideas of public ownership, industrial democracy, and redistributive justice. As philosopher John Dewey pointed out, a pluralistic democratic society needed “new civic and political agencies” to generate the bonds of mutuality and reciprocity that sustained social cohesion.[52] These new avenues of public participation, ranging from mutual savings banks to cooperative insurance funds, would enable individuals from all ethnic and racial backgrounds to recognize that their freedom was intrinsically linked to their social being.

Challenging the utilitarian economism, assimilationist culturalism, and scientific racism that dominated conventional reform, progressives in this tradition proposed a vision that connected a “cultural” to a “social” dimension. Indeed, they formulated a distinctive “cultural social politics” that sought to reconcile ethnic pluralism, social justice, democratic participation, and cultural modernity. Upholding organicist ideas, they operated on the premise that the ties that bind citizens together needed to be grounded in the conscious participation in shared cultural endeavors with common ethical, social, and economic goals.[53]

For example, a significant minority in the settlement house movement rejected the paternalist approach that sought to instill Victorian propriety and Anglo-Saxon values, and focused instead on nurturing immigrant traditions, securing proper work, and creating places of protection from abuse and exploitation. Their view of America was not confined to the sound of church bells, the reading of the King James Bible, and the smell of Sunday roast, but included the reality of the white slave trade, the police racket, and forced labor. They went to urban railway depots and harbors, where they fought unscrupulous cabbies who preyed on immigrants in order to take them for exorbitant fares to labor camps, deposit them at saloons for purposes of prostitution, or force them into domestic service.

Grace Abbott and the Illinois Immigrants Protective League, as well as the National Committee for Constructive Immigration Legislation and the YWCA, were examples of this approach. Their fold also included prominent settlements, such as the Hull House in Chicago and the Henry Street Settlement in New York, both of which were staffed by professionals who had been trained at new university-based social work and philanthropy schools. Furthermore, the International Institutes – settlements in smaller cities that countered nativist-dominated Americanization policies with efforts to preserve immigrant languages, cultures, and traditions – belonged to this camp.[54]

In the same vein, Isaac Max Rubinow, frequently referred to as the “father of Social Security” in the United States, maintained a distinctive transnational and civic vision in his campaign for social insurance, which sought to reconcile comprehensive systems of social provision with high levels of immigration. Recognizing the close connection between economic fear and ethno-racial hostility, Rubinow sought to create a modern public social insurance system out of the tradition of immigrant self-help. His communitarian, social-democratic concept of health insurance merged the social-relational theories pioneered by John Dewey, the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein, and European traditions of mutualism. In short, he sought to use health insurance reform as a means to create civic institutions that enabled individuals of all ethnic backgrounds to participate in non-commercial and democratically governed organizations.[55]

Breaking out of a discourse of reform that primarily focused on efforts to increase worker efficiency or to promote cultural conformity, these thinkers and activists abandoned some of the political shibboleths and ethnic prejudices of prewar progressivism. Sociologists such as Robert Park and W. I. Thomas, for example, merged cultural modernism and a new understanding of immigrant traditions. Similarly, W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous concepts of “double consciousness,” “second sight,” and “seeing oneself through the other world” were not just analytical categories for understanding the African American experience, but intellectual tools for the deconstruction of racial and ethnic “givens” and the formulation of transethnic and transracial concepts of social citizenship.[56] In shifting the focus from identities to processes, and from essences to geneses, these approaches mirrored the concept of a “trans-national America” advocated in 1916 by the renowned writer and critic Randolph Bourne. Bourne spelled out a vision of the U.S. as a “no-place” where multiple ethnic, national, and racial “citizenships” were constantly redefined through processes of cultural intermingling. Rejecting both assimilationist concepts of the melting pot and the notion of fixed ethnic identities, he depicted proud hybridity as the essence of America’s uniqueness.[57]

The “Female Dominion of Reform” and the Gender Conundrum

The worlds of professional employment, corporate business, urban politics, labor organizing, and academic research discussed in this essay so far were largely male-dominated. Yet progressivism was to a significant extent a women's movement, and Progressive Era social reform was for many women a crucial experience in breaking out of the domestic sphere and finding a public voice. This inadvertently also translated into a process of politicization and political involvement, which culminated in post-Civil War efforts to influence the legislative process via publicity, lobbying, and petitioning. However, for many women, establishing political clout was linked to rejecting the cause of female suffrage (which they obtained on a national level after World War I). The argument that women were more effective politically when they didn't have the vote was quite widespread among progressives, both male and female. After all, what most reformers wanted was increased civic participation, not an extension of voting rights, as the debates about limiting immigrant suffrage revealed.

Women’s involvement in progressive causes translated into both an effort to carve out a female dominion of reform and a “feminization” of the political discourse. In particular, the social bonds dimension of progressivism discussed above was fundamentally shaped by women’s activism and approaches to reform. Progressive Era concerns with public health and hygiene, for example, made a realm of social care, previously confined to the family and largely left to women, a matter of public concern. Likewise, the rhetoric of interdependence, civic engagement, and social ethics matched more clearly nineteenth-century conceptualizations of women as society's moral guardians and social interlocutors than the male discourse of independent, self-made, acquisitive, entrepreneurial individuals competing in the marketplace. As women embarked on the moral crusade to cleanse, order, and civilize society, they frequently legitimized their engagement with the public realm on the basis of being agents of moral uplift and of binding a fragmenting society together.[58]

The explosion of female reform activism in the Progressive Era was a two-edged sword, however. Within the larger socioeconomic transformations of the period, progressive impulses both destabilized and reinforced established gender roles. For example, the “maternalism” that broadly informed the progressive campaigns for mothers' pension and protective laws for women workers opened up opportunities for female political participation and expanded public social provision. At the same time, the policies it pursued solidified the stigmatization of single mothers.[59]

Maternalism was linked to carving out a female sphere of influence based on a nineteenth-century moral reform tradition that emphasized personalized care and empathy in social provision. Rather than overcoming the gender divide in social policy, however, maternalism in the long run reinforced a system of welfare provision that privileged white men over women and minorities. Reformers were often obsessed with the alleged abuse of benefits, the need for morals-testing, worries about illegitimacy, and fears of undermining male responsibility. The campaign for mothers’ pensions, for example, frequently distinguished between “deserving” widows and deserted women, on the one hand, and “undeserving” unmarried mothers, on the other.

By the 1920s, as historian Linda Gordon maintains, maternalism had yielded a welfare state vision centered on the defense of domesticity, the “male breadwinner” idea, a definition of women as dependents, and a commitment to individual casework, rather than entitlement-based provision.[60] This found expression in the 1921 Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided some public health services for women until its demise in 1929. The emancipatory potential of female reform was thus mitigated by the conservative content of its social ideology, which was frequently moralistic, middle-class, and designed to preserve traditional gender relations. As Virginia Shapiro explains, social policy aimed at women “has been designed explicitly to benefit them in their capacity as wives and mothers,” assuming that “women are not autonomous individuals and moral agents, but that they live contingent lives.”[61]

In the long run, this contributed to the failure of the New Deal state in the 1930s to make aid to single mothers an entitlement as part of the welfare state and to include women fully in the benefits of Social Security. [62] It also reflected the fact that women's influence tended to thrive under the conditions of charity-based giving, rather than under modern welfare state structures. While women volunteers formed the mainstay of nineteenth-century charitable work, they tended to lose out when bureaucratic, entitlement-based systems of social provision became more prominent.[63]

The Race Question

An even more disturbing manifestation of how cultural stereotypes and hierarchies limited the progressive potential for social change is the issue of race. The high tide of progressivism coincided with some of the darkest moments of segregation, discrimination, and racial violence. Indeed, race was effectively progressivism's blind spot. Though many social scientists in the 1880s and 1890s embraced social reform causes, they did next to nothing to dismantle the accepted dogmas of racial categorizing. As historian Eileen McDonagh points out, during the Progressive Era "the national state successfully expanded in the domain of welfare policies, yet in the domain of civil rights, it either atrophied or was so misused that it was eroded."[64] In this respect, Progressive Era politics continued the “collusive sympathy” with the South that had characterized Northern abandonment of the abolitionist agenda after Reconstruction.[65]

The so-called “Negro problem” was effectively “beyond critical reach” in the late nineteenth century.[66] Leading progressive social scientists, such as Edward A. Ross and Albion Small, affirmed the general consensus that blacks were inferior of their own making, and anthropologists and biologists grouped blacks with subhuman species in Jim Crow America. In turn, even progressive thinkers sympathetic to the plight of African Americans found it difficult to free themselves from the entanglements of racial thought. W. I. Thomas and Lester Frank Ward, for example, refuted the notion that whites were mentally superior, regarded blacks as fully capable of acquiring culture, and wanted them to participate fully as citizens in society. At the same time, they retained the view that the mental characteristics of races differed. Likewise, progressive social scientists such as Charles Horton Cooley, morally rejected the idea of inferiority, but found no intellectual grounding for this attitude. Moreover, the emergence of the new biology that emphasized heredity over environment further legitimized racial categorizing, eugenics, immigration restrictions, and the sterilization of the “unfit.”[67]

In the same vein, there was a growing sense among progressive reformers that African Americans could be written out of the progressive script for social renewal entirely. As one of the few books by a leading muckraking journalist on the subject, Ray Stannard Baker's Following the Color Line (1908) concluded that blacks were “far inferior in education, intelligence, and efficiency to the white people as a class.” As a result, he noted, they “must find their activities mostly in physical and more or less menial labor.”[68] Although some progressives assumed that blacks shared the values and aspirations of white society and were thus redeemable, most reformers categorized African Americans as backward people whose culture was simply incompatible with modern, secular, rational, industrial society.[69]

In turn, the majority of white settlement houses excluded blacks, conducted segregated activities, or followed their white clientele out of neighborhoods settled by African Americans when they migrated from the rural South to the urban North during and after World War I. Despite significant efforts to attend to the needs of African Americans by Lillian Wald's Henry Street Settlement in New York, the settlement houses of the National Urban League, and Mary Ovington's idea of a settlement house for blacks, the notion that black migrants and white immigrants differed fundamentally prevailed, and the focus of settlement house work shifted away from integration.[70]

Indeed, even the most sympathetic settlement house workers frequently could not free themselves from racialist thinking. John Daniels, for example, found a lack of moral stamina among blacks and chided them for failing to make proper use of the opportunities afforded by Reconstruction. Robert Woods, the founder of Boston’s South End House, urged African Americans to replicate the immigrants' impetus of self-help and assimilation, while upholding the notion that blacks were “farthest in the rear of race” and thus needed "any positive code of morality and any ethical standards." Likewise, Jane Addams's juxtaposition of the strong family sense of Italians with the lack of restraint among blacks, and Frances Kellor's critique of the absence of black “domestic life” were part and parcel of the exclusion of African Americans from the progressive scenario of social redemption.[71] As W.E.B. Du Bois increasingly realized, while other groups were “felt to be worth education, helping and guiding because they were men and brothers” in progressive lore, blacks would not be allowed to escape the stereotypes imposed on their group.[72]

What characterized this “rhetoric of incapacitation,” however, was not so much outright racism or belief in fixed racial hierarchies.[73] Instead, the reformers frequently replaced the racialist belief in biological deficiency with the notion of cultural deficiency. Most white settlement house workers, as Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn has shown, regarded African American civilization as severely deficient, since the brutal system of slavery had allegedly destroyed the very rudiments of culture.[74] Crucially, this meant not only that the cultural conceptualizations of African Americans during slavery reverberated in social policy during the Progressive Era and beyond, as historian Gunja SenGupta has argued.[75] It also meant that progressives generally judged African Americans on the basis of comparisons with immigrants. They subordinated the black experience to white America's cultural conceptualization of the new immigrants. As the period saw an increasing classification of immigrants according to clusters of discrete bio-cultural groups with ascribed ethnic and racial characteristics, blacks fared badly when compared to eastern European immigrants, who allegedly had more developed institutions and a cultural and professional elite.[76]

As a result, Progressive Era social thought and politics often subsumed European ethnic divisions while at the same time sustaining racial exclusion. One particular paradox highlights this process. During World War I, German Americans were collectively accused of being enemy aliens, traitors, and subversives, and were persecuted in a vicious nativist hysteria. When it came to implementing restrictive immigration legislation after the war, however, no restrictions were placed on German immigration. Remarkably, an ethnically defined group that had only a few years earlier been the subject of severe vilification was thus seamlessly recognized not only as no longer posing a threat but as having actually had a positive impact. Indeed, by the mid-1920s, the country saw German immigration on a scale it had not seen since the 1890s. Meanwhile, African Americans, a group whose contribution to the war effort could not be doubted, faced another chapter in a long history of racial persecution, discrimination, and segregation. In both the German and the African American cases, the postwar period largely witnessed a reversion to images that had solidified in the period of high migration between the 1890s and the 1920s. They “whitened” the Germans and recognized them as an immigrant group that had “contributed” to the country, while declaring African Americans unassimilable.[77]

Despite all its reformist fervor, the Progressive Era is now widely recognized as a period in which racial categories and hierarchies were cemented, while many European immigrant groups were gradually integrated into what SenGupta calls a "Herrenvolk democracy."[78] This, however, was no novelty in a society that had traditionally calibrated between a universalistic democratic promise and a sociopolitical order that functioned on the basis of ethnic and racial conflict, exclusion, and exploitation. As many historians have noted, throughout American history references to savages and barbarous peoples were ubiquitous in texts that invoked the language of republican virtues, natural rights, popular sovereignty, and constitutional government. They were part of the political, economic, legal, and cultural strategies used to assert white rule over excluded groups declared unfit for self-government due to their alleged lack of moral agency, reason, or self-control. Principles of racial exclusion were thus not just a temporary aberration from the universal principles of liberty and democracy. Instead, as Matthew Frye Jacobson argues, "the very existence of republican institutions [was] dependent upon racially sanctioned exclusions.”[79]

Seen from this perspective, the only change that can take place within these structures is that the goalposts are moved while the principles of inclusion and exclusion remain in place. In the case of progressivism, reformers thus furthered a process by which traditional ethnic divisions began to subside. At the same time, however, the diminution of differences between European immigrants helped sustain existing racial discriminations by defining ethnically inclusive “whiteness” in contrast to African Americans.


This essay has approached Progressive Era society and culture in general, and progressivism in particular, from three main perspectives. First, it places the movement in the context of transpersonal factors, such as class formation, cultural change, professionalization, and interest-group politics linked to the transportation and communication revolutions, urbanization, economic expansion, and the growth of state administrative capacities. Viewing the reform impulses from this angle highlights the fact that progressive social work, factory inspections, campaigns for public health, business regulations, and the like reflected a managerialist and bureaucratic desire for ordering –rather than overcoming – a chaotic capitalist society by a new white-collar middle class of experts and administrators. Simultaneously integrated into the organizational trajectories of modern industrial society and deeply unsettled by its human costs, many progressives formulated a new ideal of organization and rationalization that located the foundations of American greatness in technology, efficiency, productivity, and the cult of experts. By staffing the positions that opened up as the administrative needs of complex industrial societies expanded, the reformers hoped to make their expertise the basis for carving out a sphere of socioeconomic, cultural, and political influence.

Second, the essay views Progressive Era reform through the lens of critical theory, the linguistic turn, and postmodernism. In this reading of progressivism, its mixture of moralism and social engineering rationalized inequalities, covered up economic exploitation, and reinforced racial, ethic, gender, and class boundaries at a time when the social order was challenged by working-class politics, immigrant cultures, women’s movements, and new urban styles. Progressive social expertise, in particular, embodied strategies of hegemony and oppression embedded in allegedly value-neutral expert discourses, scientific knowledge, and public policy.

Third, the essay assesses the movement in light of interpretations that have challenged both approaches. On the one hand, these interpretations have sought to rescue the progressives from the ignominy of the “social control” label of soulless bureaucrats, engineers of the leviathan state, or willing executioners of organized capitalism. On the other hand, they have questioned the “moral control” label that charges reformers with defending traditional gender roles, racial distinctions, and social divides. Locating the legacy of progressivism less in legislative politics than in “arts, philosophy, diplomacy, and cultural empathy,” these interpretations suggest that fin-de-siècle reform to a significant extent transcended what philosopher Arthur Lovejoy called the “monistic pathos” of nineteenth-century thought and culture: A belief in notions of national essences, genetically fixed cultural traits, permanent race and gender hierarchies, and putatively eternal laws of the market.[80] Instead, the reformers broke through the stranglehold of laissez-faire economics, found an intellectual grounding for their moral outrage, and spelled out visions of social reform that sought to connect ethnic diversity, participatory politics, distributive justice, and cultural modernity.

What is more, the essays suggests that American progressivism cannot be divorced from its transnational orientation and was instead “of a part with movements of politics and ideas throughout the north Atlantic world that trade and capitalism had tied together.”[81] The transatlantic dimension adds a special flavor to the reconfiguration of American economics, culture, and politics in the late nineteenth century. The era’s new-found interest in European social policy was in part the result of a crisis of confidence among many educated Americans. Distrustful of government corruption, sidelined politically, and driven by a desire to find substitutes for indigenous American policy trajectories, a new generation of young, publicly-minded, middle-class reformers became crucial mediators of European social thought and reform in American society. In turn, the era's sense of possibility cannot be divorced from its transnational orientation. The transfers and circulations that undergirded the social politics of the age and made Progressivism part and parcel of an international culture of ideas helped establish the authority of American reformers as public intellectuals, scholar-activists, and professional experts; opened up new vistas for social change; and contributed to reshaping the American political economy.


[1] Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (New York: Macmillan, 1909), 41. On the link between the market and morality in nineteenth-century thought, see also Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven. Progress and Its Critics (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), 487. The novels by William Dean Howells also address this divergence, including The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890).

[2] Aristide Zolberg, “Labour Migration and International Economic Regimes: Bretton Woods and After,” in International Migration Systems: A Global Approach, ed. Mary M. Kritz et al. (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1992), 322.

[3] Axel R. Schäfer, “Immigration,” in Introduction to American Studies, ed. Chris Bigsby and Howard Temperley (London: Longman/Pearson, 2006), 170-97.

[4] Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

[5] See, for example, David Montgomery,The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Leon Fink, Workingmen's Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1983); and David Brody, Workers in Industrial America: Essays on the Twentieth-Century Struggle, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[6] Cybelle Fox, “Three Worlds of Relief: Race, Immigration, and Public and Private Social Welfare Spending in American Cities, 1929,” American Journal of Sociology 116 (2010): 455. See also Fox, Three Worlds of Relief: Race, Immigration, and the American Welfare State from the Progressive Era to the New Deal (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

[7] Fox, “Three Worlds of Relief,” 462.

[8] Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in United States (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992), 100.

[9] For a good discussion of the marginalization of the professional middle classes in American urban politics, see Marcus Graeser, “Chicago 1880-1940: Urbanisierung ohne administrative Kompetenz?” ZENAF Arbeits- und Forschungsberichte 1 (2001). For examinations of the reformers’ fight against patronage democracy, see Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, 261ff. On the relationship between reformers and urban machines, see ibid., 96-101.

[10] Walter Rauschenbusch, “In Germany,” scrapbook marked “Personals (1890- ),” Walter Rauschenbusch Papers, American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, New York, quoted in Melvyn Stokes, “American Progressivism and the European Left,” Journal of American Studies 17 (April 1983): 17.

[11] On the development of administrative capacities, see Ballard C. Campbell, The Growth of American Government: Governance from the Cleveland Era to the Present (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995); Stephen Skowronek, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Sidney Fine, laissez-faire and the General-Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865-1901 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1956), 18-25.

[12] Albert Shaw, “The American State and the American Man,” Contemporary Review 51 (1887): 711, 707. On Shaw, see Lloyd J. Graybar, Albert Shaw and the Review of Reviews: An Intellectual Biography (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1974).

[13] On the development of the Civil War pension system, the “first costly and extensive national social benefits effort,” see Theda Skocpol and John Ikenberry, “The Political Formation of the American Welfare State in Historical and Comparative Perspective,” in The Welfare State, 1883-1983, ed. Richard F. Tomasson, Comparative Social Research, no. 6 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1983), 91.

[14] On New York City in the Progressive Era, see John Louis Recchiuti, Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

[15] Robert A. Gross, “Giving in America: From Charity to Philanthropy,” in Charity, Philanthropy and Civility in American History, ed. Lawrence J. Friedman and Mark D. McGarvie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 43. On the transatlantic dimension of philanthropic culture, see Thomas Adam, Buying Respectability: Philanthropy and Urban Society in Transnational Perspective, 1840s to 1930s (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009).

[16] Judith Sealander, “Curing Evil at Their Source: The Arrival of Scientific Giving,” in Charity, Philanthropy, ed. Friedman and McGarvie, 217-39; Emily Rosenberg, “Missions to the World: Philanthropy Abroad,” in Charity, Philanthropy, ed. Friedman and McGarvie, 241-57.

[17] Frederic C. Howe, Confessions of a Reformer (New York: Macmillan, 1925), 113. See also Kenneth E. Miller, From Progressive to New Dealer: Frederic C. Howe and American Liberalism (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2010).

[18] Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 4.

[19] Walter Weyl, The New Democracy: An Essay on Certain Political and Economic Tendencies in the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 2.

[20] Dorothy Ross, “Socialism and American Liberalism: Academic Social Thought in the 1880's,” Perspectives in American History 11 (1977-78): 9.

[21] Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 4, 34-45.

[22] Many of the entrepreneurs featured in the current project, for instance, travelled to Europe to pursue advanced studies, and, in some cases, to acquire degrees. Among others, brewer Oscar Koehler earned a doctorate from a German university – in his case, a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Leipzig. Moreover, many of the children of German-American entrepreneurs studied in Germany. They include Milton Guldman, son of Leopold Guldman, and Hermann Mergenthaler, son of Ottmar Mergenthaler

[23] Frank A. Vanderlip, “Political Problems of Europe as They Interest Americans,” Scribner's Magazine 37 (January 1905): 1. On this issue, see also Christof Mauch and Kiran Klaus Patel, eds. The United States and Germany during the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[24] I have explored these themes in Axel R. Schäfer, American Progressives and German Social Reform: Social Ethics, Moral Control, and the Regulatory State in a Transatlantic Context (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000). For a good example of how German immigrants were linked to the transatlantic dimension of progressive reform, see Alan Lessoff and Christof Mauch, eds., Adolf Cluess, Architect: From Germany to America (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005).

[25] For a good discussion of this aspect, see Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 126-30. See also Axel R. Schäfer, “Britain, Europe and the Critique of Capitalism in American Reform, 1880-1920,” in Critiques of Capitalism in Modern Britain and America, ed. Mark Bevir and Frank Trentmann (London: Palgrave, 2002), 98-126.

[26] Frederic C. Howe, Socialized Germany (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1915), 7.

[27] Benjamin Rader, The Academic Mind and Reform: The Influence of Richard T. Ely in American Life (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1967), 1.

[28] John B. Andrews, “Report of Work,” 1909, n.p., Henry W. Farnam Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT. On the AALL, see Roy Lubove, The Struggle for Social Security, 1900-1935 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 29, 67; and Skocpol and Ikenberry, “Political Formation of the Welfare State,” 100.

[29] American Economic Association, “Statement of Principles,” quoted in Joseph Dorfman, “The Role of the German Historical School in American Economic Thought,” American Economic Review 45 (May 1955): 27. On the influence of German social ideas, see Jurgen Herbst, The German Historical School in American Scholarship: A Study in the Transfer of Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965); 17-28; Axel R. Schäfer, “German Historicism, Progressive Social Thought, and the Interventionist State in the U.S. since the 1880s,” in Markets in Historical Contexts, ed. Mark Bevir and Frank Trentmann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 145-69.

[30] This is lucidly explored in Marcus Graeser, Wohlfahrtsgesellschaft und Wohlfahrtsstaat. Bürgerliche Sozialreform und Welfare State Building in den USA und in Deutschland, 1880-1940 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009); and Sven Beckert, The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[31] On these issues see, for example, Thomas L. Haskell, The Emergence of Professional Social Science: The American Social Science Association and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis of Authority (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1977); and Mary O. Furner, Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905 (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1975).

[32] See, for example, Thomas Welskopp and Alan Lessoff, eds., Fractured Modernity: America Confronts Modern Times, 1890s to 1940s (München: Oldenbourg, 2013); Thomas Adam, Intercultural Transfers and the Making of the Modern World, 1800-2000 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2011); Ian Tyrrell, Transnational Nation: United States History in Global Perspective since 1789 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Maurizio Vaudagna, ed. The Place of Europe in American History: Twentieth-Century Perspectives (Turin: Otto Editore, 2007).

[33] Howe, Confessions, 14, 180.

[34] Edward Berkowitz and Kim McQuaid, Creating the Welfare State: The Political Economy of Twentieth Century Reform (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1992), x, 4-5, 35, 39.

[35] Howe, Socialized Germany, 265.

[36] Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 149-51.

[37] Walter Lippmann, “On Municipal Socialism, 1913: An Analysis of Problems and Strategies,” in Socialism and the Cities, ed. Bruce M. Stave (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1975), 192. For a contrasting “business progressive” perspective, see, for example, Newton D. Baker, “Municipal Ownership,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 57 (January 1915), 191.

[38] Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 131, 152.

[39] On business and progressivism, see Berkowitz and McQuaid, Creating the Welfare State. On the 1920s, see Ellis W. Hawley, “Herbert Hoover, the Commerce Secretariat, and the Vision of an ‘Associative State,’ 1921-1928,” Journal of American History 61 (June 1974): 116-40.

[40] John Milton Cooper, The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).

[41] Charles Gillespie, “The Darwinian Heritage,” in The Making of the Modern World: 1815-1914, ed. Norman F. Cantor and Michael S. Werthman (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1967), 91.

[42] James Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 298-99. On the intellectual sea change, see also Dorothy Ross, Modernist Impulses in the Human Sciences (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890-1930 (New York: Knopf, 1958); and Morton White, Social Thought in America: The Revolt against Formalism (New York: Viking Press, 1949).

[43] Henry C. Adams, “The Outlook of a Political Economist,” typescript, 1900, p. 9, Address File, Box 25, Henry C. Adams Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

[44] In particular, the tension between the foundationalist ideas underlying market economics and the relativist, anti-foundationalist implications of Darwinism became the basis upon which they systematically developed their theories. See Thorstein Veblen, “The Preconceptions of Economic Science,” in What Veblen Taught: Selected Writings of Thorstein Veblen, ed. Wesley C. Mitchell (New York: Viking, 1936), 39-150; John Dewey and James Tufts, Ethics (New York: Henry Holt, 1908).

[45] Simon N. Patten, The New Basis of Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1907); Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind in American Civilization, vol. 3 (New York: Viking, 1959), 188; Daniel M. Fox, The Discovery of Abundance: Simon N. Patten and the Transformation of Social Theory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 14-15.

[46] Richard Schneirov, “Thoughts on Periodizing the Gilded Age: Capital Accumulation, Society, and Politics, 1873-1898,” Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era 5 (July 2006): 189-224. On working-class mobilization and the new political economy of the Progressive Era, see also Peter Flora and Arnold J. Heidenheimer, “The Historical Core and Changing Boundaries of the Welfare State,” in The Development of Welfare States in Europe and America, 1850-1950, ed. Peter Flora and Arnold J. Heidenheimer (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1981); Val Lorwin, “Working-Class Politics and Economic Development: Western Europe,” American Historical Review 63 (January 1958): 338-51; and Ian Gough, The Political Economy of the Welfare State (New York: Macmillan, 1979).

[47] Frederic C. Howe, remarks, Proceedings of the Fourth National Conference on City Planning (1912): 213-14.

[48] Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1890), 22. On urban imagery, see, for example, Ely, The Coming City.

[49] Laura Hapke, “A Shop Is Not A Home: Nineteenth‐Century American Sweatshop Discourse,” American Nineteenth Century History 2 (2001): 47-66. On these issues, see also Alice O’Connor, Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

[50] Raymond A. Mohl and Neil Betten, “Paternalism and Pluralism: Immigrants and Social Welfare in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1940,” American Studies 15 (Spring 1974): 6.

[51] John F. McClymer, War and Welfare: Social Engineering in America, 1890-1925 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), 83.

[52] Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, 439, 481.

[53] Casey Blake, Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brook, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 2, 8-9; Christopher McKnight Nichols, “Rethinking Randolph Bourne's Trans-National America,” Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era 8 (April 2009): 217-57.

[54] Robert L. Buroker, “From Voluntary Association to Welfare State: The Illinois Immigrants' Protective League, 1908-1926,” Journal of American History 58 (1971): 646-47; Mohl and Betten, “Paternalism and Pluralism,” 15ff.

[55] J. Lee Kreader, “Isaac Max Rubinow: Pioneering Specialist in Social Insurance,” in Compassion and Responsibility: Readings in the History of Social Welfare Policy in the United States, ed. Frank R. Breul and Steven J. Diner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 288-311. I have explored Rubinow’s ideas in Axel R. Schäfer, “Beyond ‘Uplift’ and ‘Efficiency’: Isaac M. Rubinow, Immigration, and Transatlantic Health Care Reform, 1900-1935,” in Transatlantic Social Politics: 1800-Present, ed. Daniel Scroop and Andrew Heath (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

[56] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1903), 364-65.

[57] Randolph Bourne, “Trans-National America,” Atlantic Monthly 118 (July 1916), 86-97.

[58] On women and progressivism, see Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform 1890-1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Linda Gordon, ed., Women, the State, and Welfare (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990); Gwendolyn Mink,The Wages of Motherhood: Inequality in the Welfare State, 1917-1942 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995); Alison M. Parker, Purifying America: Women, Cultural Reform, and Pro-Censorship Activism, 1873-1933 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997).

[59] See, for example, Mimi Abramowitz, Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present (Boston: South End Press, 1988); Ulla Wikander, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Jane Lewis, eds., with the assistance of Jan Lambertz, Protecting Women: Labor Legislation in Europe, the United States, and Australia, 1880-1920 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

[60] Linda Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, 1890-1936 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).

[61] Virginia Shapiro, “The Gender Basis of American Social Policy,” in Women, State, and Welfare, ed. Linda Gordon (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 45, 51.

[62] Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled, 254

[63] See, for example, Mary J. Oates, “Faith and Good Works: Catholics Giving and Taking,” in Charity, Philanthropy, ed. Friedman and McGarvie, 281-99.

[64] Eileen L. McDonagh, “The ‘Welfare Rights State’ and the ‘Civil Rights State’: Policy Paradox and State Building in the Progressive Era,” Studies in American Political Development 7 (Fall 1993): 252.

[65] The term is taken from David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), 51.

[66] John S. Haller, Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859-1900 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 210. See also McClymer, War and Welfare, 87-91.

[67] James B. McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem: The Failure of a Perspective (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993). On Ross's combination of social reform and racism, see Edward A. Ross, The Old World in the New: The Significance of Past and Present Immigration to the American People (New York: Century, 1913). Moreover, racist books, such as Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race (1916) and Lothrop Stoddard’s Rising Tide of Color (1920) were widely read. I have explored this in Axel R. Schäfer, “W.E.B. Du Bois, German Social Thought, and the Racial Divide in American Progressivism, 1892-1909,” Journal of American History 88 (December 2001): 925-49.

[68] Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line: American Negro Citizenship in the Progressive Era (New York, 1964 [1908]), 304. See also David W. Southern, The Malignant Heritage: Yankee Progressives and the Negro Question, 1901-1914 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1968), 39; Lewis, Du Bois, 102, 276.

[69] McKee, Sociology, 7-8, 13

[70] Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, Black Neighbors: Race and the Limits of Reform in the American Settlement House Movement, 1890-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993). See also Ronald C. White, Jr., Liberty and Justice for All: Racial Reform and the Social Gospel (1877-1925) (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990); and Ralph E. Luker, The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885-1912 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[71] Quoted in Lasch-Quinn, Black Neighbors, 14, 17-18, 20-22.

[72] Lewis, Du Bois, 204, 210. See also Shamoon Zamir, Dark Voices: W.E.B. Du Bois and American Thought, 1888-1903 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Axel R. Schäfer, “Du Bois on Race: Economic and Cultural Perspectives,” in The Cambridge Companion to W.E.B. Du Bois, ed. Shamoon Zamir (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 102-16.

[73] Michael Freeden uses this term in “Democracy and Paternalism: The Struggle over Shaping British Liberal Welfare Thinking,” in Democracy and Social Rights in the ‘Two Wests’, ed. Alice Kessler-Harris and Maurizio Vaudagna (Turin: Otto Editore, 2009).

[74] Lasch-Quinn, Black Neighbors, 6, 10-11, 13, 23.

[75] Gunja SenGupta, From Slavery to Poverty: The Racial Origins of Welfare in New York, 1840-1918 (New York: New York University Press, 2009). See also Jill Quadagno, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[76] See, for example, Paul Schor, Compter et classer. Histoire des catégories de la population dans le recensement américain, 1790-1940 (Paris: Editions de l'EHESS, 2009).

[77] For a recent discussion of this, see Robert L. Fleegler, Ellis Island Nation: Immigration Policy and American Identity in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). On shifting definitions of “whiteness,” see Jacobsen, Whiteness of a Different Color, 19.

[78] SenGupta, From Slavery to Poverty, 19.

[79] Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color. See also David E. Bernstein, Only One Place of Redress: African-Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

[80] Robert Crunden, Ministers of Reform: The Progressives’ Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920 (New York: Basic Books, 1982), xi; Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of Ideas (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2009 [1936]), 13.

[81] Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, 3. Of interest in this context are also newer studies of the international dimension of American Populism, a movement that was by the 1920s commonly associated with nativism and restrictionism. See, for example, Charles Postel, The Populist Vision (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Daniel Scroop, “The Anti-Chain Store Movement and the Politics of Consumption,” American Quarterly 60 (December 2008): 925-50.


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Schäfer, Axel. "Progressive Reform in a Transatlantic Age: Economics, Culture, and Politics in the United States." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified February 09, 2015.

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Cloak Makers’ Strike, New York City, May 1, 1916

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